- Policing the initial lockdown was considerably more straightforward than policing the easing of lockdown in England, due both to the cumulative effect of lockdown on communities and the unclear and complex guidance for officers
- Revised guidance for officers has been drawn up in response to the easing of the lockdowns
- As the restrictions have been eased, the four 'E's approach to policing by consent has not only remained in place, but become more important as police negotiate a changing mix of restrictions
- Police leaders in England have criticised the legislation, the clarity of this vis-à-vis the guidance, the new slogan and the timing of political statements
- Once the slogan moved from 'stay at home' to 'stay alert' and social distance there was no clear role for the police in enforcement, as social distancing is guidance and not the law
- Police forces need time to digest and adapt to any significant changes in the rules, which has not always been afforded
- Officers are still not always provided with sufficient PPE (despite newer guidance), and have been assaulted and attacked by those purporting to have the virus
- There is concern that with children and young people out of school, less parental supervision and police resources diverted elsewhere, some young people could be more likely become involved in crime as perpetrators and/or victims
- Many police forces in England have adopted innovative approaches to policing domestic abuse during the pandemic. The challenge will be to maintain this response once the pandemic is over and demands on policing resume to normal or enhanced levels
- Police have been 'under employed' during the pandemic with almost all officers on duty, which has allowed officers to catch up on the backlog of cases that were in the system
- There have been concerns raised of a 'postcode lottery' of policing under the emergency powers, which may be leading to the inadvertent criminalisation of certain communities
- There may be a risk of a human rights challenge in relation to the application of the Regulations by the police
- There are a wide range of concerns about the risk of further civil disorder in the medium to long term which police must prepare for
- There are also concerns about the potential increase of particular types of crime during and after the outbreak, such as organised crime, corruption, child sexual exploitation, domestic abuse and cybercrime
- In the medium and long-term, experts are concerned about how police behaviour during the COVID-19 outbreak will affect public trust in the police and perceptions of their legitimacy
Background and current situation
In the proceeding paper, England and Wales were considered together, having both introduced lockdown restrictions on 26 March with minor differences in their respective approaches. Since then, their respective regulations have been amended differently (Annex 5) with differing implications for policing, so this section focusses on England. This section broadly covers the period from around 7 May to 15 June, when the second and third review of regulations took place, although information from the earlier lockdown period is included in this section where considered useful or significant. Boris Johnson announced the first review on 10 May, setting out England's 'roadmap for the next phase' of the lockdown, detailed in the recovery strategy for England. On 13 May, regulations were made in England which amended the principal lockdown regulations. These:
- amended the list of reasonable excuses to be outside to include recreational purposes
- amended the text of the regulations to make it clear that people can meet one person from outside their household in open air spaces for recreation or exercise
- increased the fines associated with the Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) issued under the regulations. Fines for the first offence increased from £60 to £100 (reduced to £50 if paid within 14 days)
- amended the list of essential businesses in England to include garden and recycling centres
On 1 June the regulations were eased again, fundamentally changing the principal lockdown regulations in England and removing many of the early lockdown rules. This included:
- the ban on people leaving their homes without a 'reasonable excuse'
- changing the restrictions on gatherings to restrict indoor gatherings of two or more and outdoor gatherings of more than six. A list of exceptions to these rules allow gatherings for work and education purposes (amongst other things)
- amending the relevant police powers - such as police powers to direct people back home and the power for police to fine people for being outside without a reasonable excuse
These changes have shifted the focus of the lockdown away from the former requirement to stay at home, to the new restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings. Whilst this shift gives people in England far more freedom of movement than previously, it still places severe restrictions on their ability to gather socially, particularly indoors.
As set out in the first paper, the police's approach to enforcement in England, as in the rest of the UK, has been based on four 'E's through the College of Policing Guidance. This constitutes a co-operative approach to policing the lockdown, using common sense and discretion to determine what is reasonable, and only enforce as a last resort. As the restrictions are eased, this approach of policing by consent has remained in place and has arguably become more important.
Enforcement statistics for England
15,550 FPNs were issued in England under lockdown regulations between 27 March and the 25 May. This number has reduced since the lockdown in England was relaxed to allow outdoor recreation. 473 FPNs were issued in the eighth full week of lockdown (15 May to 21 May), an 85% reduction on the peak in early April.
The legislation and clarity of this vis-à-vis the guidance
There has been criticism of both the legislation, the clarity of this vis-à-vis the guidance and new slogan and the timing of political statements. It has also been argued that once the slogan moved from 'stay at home' to 'stay alert' and social distance there was no clear role for the police in enforcement, as social distancing is guidance and not the law.
(i) The Legislation - The Health Protection Regulations have not been scrutinised or approved in their current form by parliament, and it has been argued that 'repeated tinkering' with these has left a complex web of loopholes and contradictions. The regulations are complex, confusing and constantly evolving which presents a challenge for officers to interpret, with some stating that the police have been 'set up to fail'.
"Police officers are being required to strike a balance on the street that would present significant challenges for justices of the Supreme Court, even in the somewhat calmer atmosphere of a courtroom". Sir Stephen Laws, first parliamentary counsel.
The regulations provide police officers, police and community support officers (PCSOs) and others with a range of specific enforcement powers they can use in the interests of public health only (and not part of day-to-day detecting and preventing crime and maintaining public order). There are issues with these powers, particularly around: power of arrest; power of entry and lack of stop and account powers which are set out in detail in the House of Commons Briefing Paper. Compared to the initial unprecedented lockdown, it has been argued that there is now little that the police can still enforce. For example, while the government is calling for people to maintain social distancing, it is not contained in the Health Protection Regulations in England and cannot be enforced by police.
(ii) The clarity of the legislation vis-à-vis the guidance and the slogan - this was problematic for policing in the first phase of lockdown and differences between government guidance and the law continue to cause difficulties for policing as the restrictions have eased. The new slogan of 'stay alert, control the virus, save lives' announced on 10 May replaced 'stay home, protect the NHS, save lives', and has been criticised for being confusing, and that instructions to the public were unclear as the lockdown was relaxed.
The Police Federation for England and Wales challenged the mixed messages, stating that the ambiguity of the new measures for England could make an 'already challenging' job 'impossible' and would be 'grossly unfair on officers'. The chairman of the Police Federation, Mr Apter, requested 'clear and unambiguous' detail on the new measures to allow officers to effectively police it:
"Police officers will continue to do their best, but their work must be based on crystal clear guidance, not loose rules that are left open to interpretation - because that will be grossly unfair on officers whose job is already challenging. If the message of what is expected of the public is not clear then it will make the job of policing this legislation almost impossible."
(iii) The timing of political statements and the delay in the law coming into force after the lockdown was announced was also criticised. The leaking of information and media speculation also led some people to change their behaviour before the relaxation of lockdown rules officially came into force, exacerbating the challenges of policing the restrictions. Police chiefs had proposed 8 key principles for an exit strategy, stressing that police need sufficient time to provide a 'considered and consistent response'. However, police have found out about the latest lifting of restrictions at the same time as the general public which meant that there was inadequate time for police training on what is and is not allowed (the College of Policing were also left trying to catch up with the guidance).
Linked to the above, the lack of clarity between the legislation and guidance, and the difficulty in enforcing the revised restrictions (policing large groups) has arguably led to a knock to police morale. There have also been some observations in the media that while the NHS are applauded, the same praise and recognition has not been afforded to the Police., However, others have remarked that the police have benefitted from increased public support for frontline staff and 'key workers'.
It is possible that police morale may have been damaged in recent weeks following negative public perceptions of the UK police, reignited in response to the killing of George Floyd in the USA.
"The mood of the officers I have spoken to is one of disgust, disbelief and disappointment that the actions of a handful of police officers on the other side of the world could potentially undo decades of progress in re-establishing public trust in policing" - Katy Bourne, police and crime commissioner for Sussex
Steven Lawrence's father Neville spoke openly in early June that police promises to reform and enshrine racial justice in the ranks have not been delivered and highlighted the disproportionate targeting of stop and search towards Black people. Britain's head of counterterrorism, Neil Basu, denounced racial bias in UK institutions and society but stressed the importance of remembering the differences between British and US policing (policing by consent and not by force).
Police training and guidance
Revised guidance was 'hurriedly' (according to the Guardian) drawn up for officers in England about the new rules introduced by the Prime Minister 10 May, on what they should and should not police. The Police Federation then published further guidance on 1 June to coincide with the second relaxation of restrictions. With the release of these guidelines Mr Apter said:
"This is the third time our colleagues have had to rapidly adapt to changes in the law; and I have to say they are doing an incredible job… This is not a straight-forward task for officers; the legislation is complex, confusing and is an awful lot to take on board overnight - but I know they will continue to do their best in these trying times".
Police Health and Safety
Guidance on PPE
Over the earlier period of the pandemic Police received mixed messages and contradictory advice from Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive about what PPE officers should wear in which situations. This reportedly led to chief officers following different advice and created a 'postcode lottery of safety for police officers'. Mr Apter said that these mixed messages are "… nothing short of a disgrace; it's dangerous and completely unacceptable. This is not a training exercise; this is reality and is a matter of life or death". The National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) were slightly less critical.
Following the conflicting advice, the Defence Police Federation issued a message on 15 April clarifying the situation and stating that all officers should have PPE readily available on their person, which can be donned quickly when deemed necessary, in situations where it is not possible to socially distance. However, since then the message has become more nuanced and as the public have been permitted more time outdoors, this had made ensuring the safety of officers more challenging. Despite the PPE provided to officers, this is often basic, does not always provide sufficient protection and is not always practical to wear for some duties.
Assaults and injuries to police officers
There have been numerous reports of police officers being spat at by people claiming to have the virus.,,37] Sussex police recorded a 39% rise in assaults against officers in April, compared to the same time last year, including officers being punched, kicked, bitten, spat and coughed on and threats to infect the officers and their families with the virus. There have also been injuries, some serious, to police during the Black Lives Matter and counter protests.
Police wellbeing and mental health support
In mid-late May the National Police Wellbeing Service uploaded resources and training on resilience, wellbeing and psychological and mental health onto their COVID-19 Coronavirus Hub to make available to officers. Cleveland Police used a 'Wellbeing' Van during the COVID-19 crisis to support staff and officers (details in the Examples of good and/or innovative practice Section below).
Maintaining public confidence
According to the Telegraph, at the same time that the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) called for the government to be 'clear and unambiguous' about rule changes during the lockdown, senior officers also stressed the importance of maintaining public confidence and the policing by consent model.
Earlier analysis from the lockdown period about public perceptions of pandemic policing showed that some measures (such as checkpoints and issuing fines) are much more popular than others (like mobile phone and facial recognition tracking). It also showed that people's perception of the legitimacy of the police is crucial in establishing public consent for enhanced police powers. In turn, legitimacy is rooted in people's experience of everyday policing. A more recent article in the LSE entitled 'The Cummings row undermines the sense of collective solidarity on which the lockdown relies' draws on public opinion data to show that compliance with lockdown measures is driven by social identity and collective responsibility and that by defending Dominic Cummings, the government risks undermining people's compliance with the restrictions. This may also have damaged trust in the Police.
Challenges of co-operation, with the public and/or partner agencies
In a document drafted at the start of May in which chief officers proposed eight key principles which should be applied when the Government begins its exit strategy, chief officers praised the public for its adherence to the current restrictions, but warned: "A collective sense of being in this together exists. Any breakdown of this sense is likely to lead to increased community tensions. It also has the potential to shift demand to a small number of policing areas".
Policing young people/older children who are out of school for long periods
With children and young people out of school, less parental supervision and police resources diverted elsewhere, particular young people could be more likely become involved in crime as perpetrators and/or victims. There are concerns that the victimisation of children in increasingly serious and harmful ways may be one challenge for policing over the coming months. For example, serious organised crime (SOC) networks exploitation of vulnerable young people to deliver drugs across 'county lines' is one way in which this could be a challenge for policing over the coming months. In Birmingham there have been warnings of a potential rise in violence after rival groups recruited 'low-performing' children while out of school and are now preparing to exploit rising numbers of unemployed youngsters. SOC groups often perform a sense of caring that the young people might not get elsewhere. With the closures of schools and other critical community organisations, key community partners will be less able to detect and report this form of exploitation, which vulnerable young people may be particularly vulnerable to after the lockdown period.
Policing domestic abuse
It has been argued that coronavirus has thrown the daily realities of domestic abuse 'into sharper relief'. Domestic abuse charities have reported steep increases in calls, and presented early evidence that during the lockdown cases have escalated more quickly to become more complex and serious, with high levels of physical violence and coercive control. Since the lockdown there have been estimates of domestic homicides doubling and almost trebling in the UK. Police have also reported that while the demand for police help has been persistent over time, victim-survivors of domestic abuse have required more police help during the lockdown.
Since the lockdown measures, many police forces have responded by prioritising their response to domestic abuse. In London, officers have arrested thousands of suspects for current crimes and historic offences. Sussex police recruited a new team of 30 specially trained officers to deal solely with reports of domestic abuse that do not require an urgent or 999 response (see Innovative practice section below).
Preparing for the possibility of civil unrest and how to manage this
There were reports, prior to the easing of the lockdown, that the continued uncertainty around Britain's exit strategy was causing increasing concern for the police, who feared community tensions could spill over if the public felt it was not being treated fairly.
Mass anti-racist protests took place across England (and worldwide), in early June, in response to the killing of George Floyd in the USA. The protests in England called for the end of institutional racism within the police and observed a minute's silence on one knee to commemorate Black people killed by police in the UK. During these protests, chants included 'No justice, no peace, no racist police', and posters listed the names of Black victims of police violence in Britain over the past 40 years or more. On 13 June, Far Right protests in London resulted in violent clashes with the police.
Policing of food and drink outlets, including surrounding road safety
Speeding has been causing concern as lockdown eases and roads get busier, in combination with vehicles sharing the roads with more people who have taken up cycling, running or walking during the current pandemic. Inconsiderate parking (blocking farmer's fields, entrances, driveways and slipways) was also reported as an issue as lockdown eases.
Examples of good and/or innovative practice
Sussex police took a proactive approach, reaching out to potential victim-survivors of domestic abuse. The force was the first in England to use new video-conferencing software, which is now used for a third of their appointments. This discreet software enables a potential victim to provide a safe number where police can send a disguised text. The message contains a link that will take them to a virtual waiting room where an officer can see and talk to them, carry out all their investigations before explaining how to delete the link so there is no trace of it. This allows a face-to-face conversation which has been difficult to achieve otherwise during the lockdown.
Sussex Police have also been using a new analytical dashboard system that allows them to overlay police reports with other data to get a richer picture of the most prolific offenders. Dedicated domestic abuse cars then visit potential perpetrators to warn them they are being monitored, to try and de-escalate situations before they become high risk.
Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) - 1000 of London's most prolific violent offenders were visited by MPS officers to try to stop crime rising as the lockdown eases. Commissioner Cressida Dick said she wanted to 'capitalise' on the fall in police recorded crime by officers visiting people believed to be predisposed to violent offending and offering them support to change. The 1,000 offenders will each be visited twice by officers to give them 'the opportunity to engage in diversionary activities'.
While the evidence suggests that procedurally just policing is most effective and motivating compliance (and the legitimacy of the police and the law), there is some evidence that 'hotspots' policing can motivate compliance among target populations.
The MPS have carried this out in areas that have seen high levels of street violence and robbery, with high-visibility officers patrolling at random times to reassure communities their streets are safe. The MPS have also undertaken significant proactive policing activity, targeting violence, drugs, robbery, domestic abuse, speeding to try and keep communities safe.
Supporting Police wellbeing
Cleveland Police used a 'Wellbeing' Van during the COVID-19 crisis to support staff and officers. Whilst adhering to social distancing guidelines, the van visited the 5 headquarters in the area, covering a range of shifts to make it as accessible as possible for all. The Oscar Kilo vans, which are part of the national police wellbeing outreach service, deliver physical, psychological and financial health checks to officers and staff and are supported by local Occupational Health staff from each force area. In Cleveland, 'freebies' were offered whilst providing information on mental and physical support available for officers and staff.
Writing in Policing Insight, Police Chief Roberts from the Isle of Man, where lockdown eased earlier, writes about some lessons learned. These include:
- Messaging from the government - changes need to be clear and well-articulated and there needs to be sufficient time between government policy on lockdown being made and the changes coming into force
- Call handling - call volumes will initially increase as lockdown changes
- Law versus the guidance - If this isn't aligned then the public expect the police to enforce things they cannot, or which they don't consider to be priorities
- The need for a plan for breaches of the law or of guidance on building site and in shops - not for the police to do
- Normal policing demands resume as soon as restrictions are eased
- The 'four Es' approach assumed greater importance as restrictions have relaxed
A paper from the Jill Dando Institute advises that it is important for the police to consider lessons learned from responding to domestic abuse during these exceptional circumstances and to use this opportunity to reflect on how "to improve and flex police resources to work most closely with third sector organisations offering respite and escape". The authors advise police to consider ways of working differently, or improving the way of working with victim-survivors of domestic abuse, by considering what is different during COVID-19 and what is the same. In the first instance they recommend police carry out more detailed analysis of incidents over the pandemic to learn from these, including who was involved, what were the circumstances, and how did the police respond.
"COVID-19 scientific observers have admitted that they are all learning about the virus while studying its impact on the population. Policing can do the same".
George Alders argues that police forces must adapt rapidly to a more digital way of working, and while operational policing has to mostly be on the street, the pandemic is leading forces across jurisdictions to challenge long held assumptions about where work can be done.
"Just as doctors are surprising themselves with the quality and productivity of video consultations… so too police are learning how much crime fighting can be done remotely through online surveillance. These enforced circumstances offer transformational opportunities for the way policing organisations see themselves".
However, as Wells et al. (2020) point out the impact of increasingly technologically-mediated contact on police legitimacy has yet to be explored.
Unintended impact of face masks
Dr Simon Harding, director of the National Centre for Gang Research at the University of West London warned that the increasing normality of face masks might assist rising levels of street crime, particularly robberies.
Human Rights and Equalities considerations
A recent report asked the views of 1,100 experts on their concerns about COVID-19 and COVID-impacted areas in the immediate and longer term future on the topic of crime, justice and policing, between 3 and 30th April. With regards to policing, concerns were highlighted around how the police are monitoring and enforcing adherence to Government restrictions, including the inadvertent criminalisation of certain communities.
Inconsistency in fines and accusations of a 'postcode lottery' by Police Force
There is evidence of unequal fines and arrests by Police Force, age and ethnicity. An FPN can be issued for more than one reason, with the most common reason in England between 27 March and 25 May being outside without a reasonable excuse. There have been concerns raised of a 'postcode lottery' of policing under the emergency powers. Across England 29 FPNs were issued for every 100,000 people (27 March - 25 May), but there has been considerable disparity in this rate across areas. North Yorkshire issued FPNs at a level almost four times higher than the national FPN rate.
|Rank||Police force||FPNs||Rate (per 100,000 population)|
Note: Data relates to the period 27 March to 25 May
Police spokespersons have countered that figures per head of the population can be misleading, as they assume that people receiving them are resident in that area, but are likely to include people visiting areas of natural beauty for example.
In a recent survey of experts, concerns were highlighted that the police may inadvertently criminalise certain groups who are less able/ likely to observe Government guidance, such as young people who live in unsafe housing, and who may be more likely to be in public spaces more often. In England FPNs were more likely to be issued to young people and men with 55% issued to people aged 18 to 29 and around 80% issued to men between 25 March - 27 May.
Minority Ethnic communities
There is evidence to show that people from Minority Ethnic communities are disproportionately likely to be fined or arrested under the regulations. Around a quarter of people issued an FPN in England (23%) did not report their ethnicity, but of those who did, around 21% of people receiving FPNs in England were from Minority Ethnic communities. Similarly, in London more White people received FPNs or were arrested than other individual ethnic groups, but compared with the resident population, higher proportions of those were from Minority Ethnic communities. More than a quarter of fines for lockdown violations were handed to Black people, and 23% to Asian people (12% and 18% of London's population respectively). The MPS stated that the reasons for this are complex and reflect the MPS's hotspot and proactive (street patrols) policing in high crime areas, and the variation in the age-profile and geographical distribution of ethnic groups in London. The MPS have implemented a quality assurance process to monitor the use of FPNs and to ensure they were issued appropriately and correctly.
A letter sent to the health secretary by a group of human rights organisations called for immediate changes to the health protection regulations to ensure measures "do not discriminate against communities of colour". In the context of the restrictions easing and policing powers becoming 'increasingly vague', the human rights organisations requested that all fines issued to date be reviewed and the scope of the regulations be narrowed. Liberty, the lead signatory, said the combination of broad police powers and vague government guidance was "bound to create a recipe for arbitrary policing and injustice". Currently there is no route to appeal the penalties without refusing to pay and risking prosecution - "Such broad powers were inevitably going to lead to inconsistent, postcode lottery policing" (Liberty spokesperson).
Sir Stephen Laws, formerly responsible for drafting government legislation put before parliament, argued that while the lockdown regulations are flexible enough to be compatible with human rights law, there is a risk of a human rights challenge in relation to its application by the police. Sir Laws said the role of the police would become 'intolerable' when rules were loosened, due to the complexities of human rights law and warned that the complexity of the new social distancing rules meant the police risked becoming embroiled in legal actions over human rights that would undermine the fight against the virus. He urged the Government to consider derogating from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) until the end of the crisis to avoid public safety measures approved by Parliament being overturned in the courts.
Concerns have been raised that there have been inconsistent and at times heavy-handed policing in England, leading to unlawful prosecutions. This comes in the context of new police powers to increase fines for first time offenders £100 and up to £3,200 for repeat offences. For example, the case of Ms Dinou who was wrongly prosecuted and charged under the incorrect section of new coronavirus legislation. Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs Council said that mistakes had been made during the first phase of lockdown and (correctly) predicted fewer fines would be handed out during the subsequent phases of the restrictions.
Increase in stop and search in London
The MPS conducted 30,608 Stop and Searches in April 2020, which increased by 29% from the previous month. This included a 29% increase in the number of Black individuals and a 28% increase in the number of White individuals stopped and searched compared to the previous month.
A number of concerns have been highlighted about the risk of civil disorder in the medium and long-term, including concerns that:
- There will be a more 'volatile and agitated society' after lockdown (Chief Superintendent Paul Griffiths) that Police must prepare for, resulting from pent up aggression due to rising unemployment, mental health issues, abuse inside homes and a general need for 'release'. And that there could be particular challenges as the night time economy reopens and people seek to celebrate the end of lockdown
- People may experience frustration at restrictions and that police may struggle to contain civil unrest if there are widespread violations of restrictions or protests
- There could be generational tension, as young people begin to resent the constraints on their right to freedom and assembly
- There could be a rise in tensions between the police and certain communities if people feel they are being unduly monitored compared to others (young people, Minority Ethnic communities)
- Civil unrest is now perhaps more likely to result should further Black Lives Matter protests become more hostile towards the police
- A recession will lead to increased crime rates and disorder, which will add further pressure to police forces
There are also concerns about the potential increase of particular types of crime during and after the outbreak, such as organised crime, corruption, domestic abuse, fraud, child sexual exploitation and cybercrime. Many of these take place in the private and virtual realms, making them often the hardest to detect and tackle. See Further Information and Discussion for more information.
It has been observed that the public have not been reporting crimes, especially crimes within the home, for fear of overburdening the police, or feeling that their calls will not be answered. If the public wait until lockdown is completely lifted, this could creating a 'fresh onslaught of demand'.